This barman skips Tales of the Cocktail for tales from the grapevine
Some of the Napa valley hills are golden brown and bone dry from the drought that’s been afflicting sunny California the past three years. Still, there are rows of lush green grapevines filling the land making one vineyard indistinguishable from another. It is mesmerizing.
“We’re going to need some Pedialyte,” says my girlfriend, Nicole. She wants to have a bartender’s favorite cure on hand, anticipating tomorrow’s hangover.
The plan? Vacation as reward for finishing graduate school last May and celebrate an upcoming birthday. I’d never encountered the cult of the grape on Napa’s scale. I imagine joining armies of tanned winos stumbling up to every tasting room every day like the walking dead. But I ask myself, what is Napa really about?
Lunch at Auberge du Soleil one day. Birthday dinner at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon on another. Accommodations at Silverado Resort northeast of downtown Napa. Fall asleep at a pool. Visit at least two wineries. Worry about nothing at all. Simple goals.
Darioush reflects middle eastern opulence and grandeur. Tall, iconic Persian columns are topped with double horses. The entrance is flanked by small fountains dotted with blooming water lilies. They serve pistachios inside.
The 2012 chardonnay is the kind of grape juice I can latch onto. It’s no “butter bomb” but also not strictly crisp or fruity. The wine leaves just enough lactic acid to be interesting. Fresh red fruit, minerals and creme brulee — it’s in there and delicious.
Our wine guys, Benjamin Stowe and Frank Damante, pour a few sips. Stowe explains their protocol includes a lighter bâtonage (stirring) of the lees than usual for this wine. Once a week to be exact as opposed to once a day. This interval renders just a trace of creaminess. We purchase two bottles.
The Stag’s Leap chateau is rustic and simple. Our wineman, Vic Simpson, explains that the tasting room we were in is being refashioned. The upgrade will bring a view of the vineyards that recline into the side of the mountain. It’s a view that is certainly going to impress future visitors of the 1973 Paris Tasting winner.
Simpson tastes us on the 2011 Artemis, 2011 Fay and the 2011 S.L.V. cabernet sauvignon. All three wines are rich with red fruit and spice in their aromas and taste. The S.L.V. has more body that grips the tongue. Simpson calls it a “velvet glove” versus the Fay. (Where have I heard that expression used before?)
He then reaches for the 2010 Cask 23 and pours us a sip. That cigar box nose catches my attention. In one glass you get a playful flavor and a smooth finish. In the end, we purchase a bottle of Artemis because it’s almost as pleasing as the Cask 23 and is within our price range.
Napa Over NOLA?
There’s nothing like The Big Easy particularly during Tales of the Cocktail but California wine country was a blessing. City dwelling boozers looking for an inner quiet will find respite in Napa. It’s the kind of place that reminds you that life is good — especially with a glass of vino by your side.